It’s All About the Light – Part 3 of 3

In the first part of this post we looked at five different directions of light.  In the second part we examined how a change in light direction can improve the image. In this part we look at ways to determine how to figure out the light source in a reference photo. Just a note: this attention to light will improve your paintings as well as help you select the best reference photo you can find.

We need a method to determine the light direction in our reference photo. Let’s look at several photographs and determine the light source.

1. Egret from by Aschi

This photograph has beautiful interesting light.


2. Where is the Light?

Find the spots in the painting with the most light. See if you can figure out where the light source is that is causing these lightest places. (orange lines). You can draw on a copy of the photo.


3. Look at the Shadows

Next look at the shadows from the darkest to the lightest. If there is a single source of light the shadows will be opposite the lightest places. Find the darkest shadows.


In this photograph the light is from the right and below the feathers that are raised. There is a bit of backlighting for the forward upper feathers creating a very excitingly lit photograph.

If the photograph has changed the lighting to come from multiple directions you’ll find that out and then decide if that is the photo that you want to paint.

4. A Time for A Run by Susan 19 at


Look at the light and the shadows.


5. These Shoes by Freda Austin Nichols



In my opinion this painting would look better with out the bag/purse because it has soon much light that it steals the focus from the shiny shoes.

6. On Stage by Ian Worrell at



I hope these examples have helped you observe, discover, and apply light in your paintings.

This is an except from Art Fundamentals at the Academy of Alcohol Ink (Online) coming soon at


3 thoughts on “It’s All About the Light – Part 3 of 3

  1. upcountry November 7, 2016 / 4:59 pm

    what great explanation! love the arrows on light and shadow… could photos be added with arrow from light source? would love it!


    • sherylwil November 7, 2016 / 5:11 pm

      Sure. I’d love to see them.


  2. upcountry November 7, 2016 / 5:05 pm

    love arrows showing shadow and light…
    could photos be added showing light source with an arrow?
    then we would know for sure if we “got it” !


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